Sunday, June 22, 2014

Poythress on Chance and Sovereignty--Review

Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random EventsChance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events by Vern Sheridan Poythress
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Vern Poythress has done much to encourage Christians to embrace the truth that God is God of all of creation and Christians are called to pursue excellence, not just in the “sacred” things like Bible study, learning worship choruses, and coming up with clever sayings for church signs and youth camp bracelets, but also the “secular” things like art, science, math, and literature.  His newest volume sets out to look at the topic of chance, statistics, probability and mathematics in the light of God’s sovereign reign over all of everything.  I decided that this would be a good introduction for me to Poythress on a book-length level.  That turned out to be true…and maybe not so true.

One of the first things I found was that Poythress is a very approachable and engaging writer.  He has the gifting to be able to take a subject that might not be that interesting and get you interested in it….that actually turned out to be a good thing.  It would appear that I am less interested in probability than I thought I was.  Beyond that, some of the technical aspects of this work were over my head (apparently my community college “C” in Statistics a couple of years ago has not prepared me to be much of a statistician). But, Poythress did an excellent job maintaining my attention and explaining it where I understand 3/4(or 75%, or .75 or 3 out of 4) of what he was writing about.

Poythress unpacks the difference between chance and Chance and the reign of God over all of his creation.  While his language of sovereignty at times felt like fatalism (and I would be very interested to read more of his teaching on human choice/accountability and sovereignty) this is a very encouraging book for the Christian who either has an interest in mathematics and statistics or someone who is taking a course on probability/statistics and would like some encouragement in dealing with the all-too-present naturalism that pervades much of academia.  His moral claim about gambling seemed to be an overstatement (both in emphasis and conclusion) and did not differentiate clearly enough between games of pure chance (i.e. roulette) and games of skill that involve aspects of chance (i.e. poker).

So, would I read this again? …No.  But, that has everything to do with the subject, not the author.  Mathematics in general just does not interest me much at all.  However, this work has increased my desire to dive into Logic and Redeeming Science by Vern Poythress, two works I have wanted to read but felt hesitant due to not being familiar with Poythress and being concerned that they/he might be overwhelming to read.  The chapters were short, his teaching was clear and simple, and his style was entertaining.  I look forward to investing time in some more of his works!

I received a review a complimentary copy through Crossway’s Beyond the Page review program.


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